The recent death of Cory Monteith could be labeled tragic from a number of perspectives: his youth, his talent,and his fight with addiction. But, and not to diminish the man’s life, it is the death of Finn Hudson that also bears some analysis.
In North America, TV and Film have become the vehicles of our cultural myths. The medium can have the intimacy of a campfire: it is what we huddle around in our home, and the visual power has a different effect than books, we are presented with flesh and blood channeling our fantasies, fears and hopes. These characters then take on a kind of weight that goes beyond popularity, and instead hold keys to understanding what we are grappling with as a culture.
Finn Hudson was an attempt to evolve the all-American hero: classically Anglo-handsome jock myth of yesteryear then morphs into a man who can hold strength, integrity but now also feelings and creative expression. Finn was not yet fully a man or a leader, but in that character we saw the emptiness of an old American myth: the white-bread quarterback (a position that developed in the 40s alongside America’s cherished ideal of the individual leader) and the emergence of what looked like the best of that myth combined with emotional intelligence and the idea of more consensus leadership, i.e., as Finn attempts to teach he abandons Mr Shue’s more dominant leader role to a more collaborative one. Yes, the Finn character is funny with the deadpan, slightly clueless delivery of black humour, but the overall moral “goodness” that shines out of the character is compelling (and why Cory should get acknowledgement for his portrayal). Finn acts like an emerging moral compass in a changing America, one that feels unstable, unsure and often violent.
The Finn character, to use Episcopal priest and theologian Matthew Fox’s idea, is the archetype of the Spiritual Warrior: the one who will fight for what he believes in, who fights and leads for the good, but not necessarily with physical violence but by holding himself accountable for his actions and beliefs, by holding the good of the group above a desire for person power. Not to sound like a rabid Glee fan with an underused film minor, there are plenty of scenes that support this interpretation, such as Finn refusing to lie to Mr Shue about kissing Emma: there is little to be gained for Finn in this act other than a commitment to integrity.
So what does the death of Finn Hudson mean for this archetype? Is it the death of the integration of a past mythic America with a new one? The new myth is needed as many of our old stories are broken and we need stories only slightly less than air and food. America continues to search for an identity that makes sense of its new world: the death of Finn may mean that nothing from the past can come into the present.